One of the most anticipated times of the year is upon us: the holiday season. While the holidays are a time to get together and celebrate with family and friends, they are also a trying time for those looking to maintain their weight. In fact, the average American gains up to 6 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s! You don’t have to be a statistic this holiday season. Simple swaps can keep you looking trim as a turkey through New Year’s, starting at square one, Thanksgiving dinner.
According to research from the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories and a whopping 229 grams of fat between the appetizers, meal, drinks, and dessert of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Follow these tips this Thanksgiving to ensure you get your holiday season started off right.
Let’s talk turkey– This Turkey Day, when someone asks if you’d like white meat or dark, stay light with white- 3 ounces for women, and 6 ounces for men. Forgoing dark meat (such as the leg or wing) with skin, for white meat without skin can save you about 100 calories and 9 grams of fat! A 3 ounce serving of wings with skin will set you back 230 calories and 12 grams of fat (even before the gravy and all the other fun stuff!), whereas the same 3 oz of turkey breast without skin is just 160 calories and 4 grams of fat. This swap alone will leave you with more wiggle room for that other fun stuff. Hello, extra stuffing!
Kick the can to cut the calories – Cranberry sauce is a staple at any Thanksgiving dinner but a 1/4 cup serving of the canned, store-bought stuff packs an extra 120 calories onto your plate, the bulk of them coming from sugar, 29 grams worth in fact! That’s equivalent to 7 teaspoons of sugar or an entire cup of Coca Cola. This year, scratch the calories and carbs and make it from scratch. This recipe for homemade “cran-berries” sauce uses a mix of cranberries and blueberries, which adds sweetness and fiber, and swaps out the granulated sugar for a non-nutritive sweetener such as stevia. The total savings for this swap? Sugar and calories cut by over 50 percent! For further slimmings, use this sauce as more of a garnish to your turkey than a full side dish--A smaller (1-2 Tablespoon) serving is plenty.
Upgrade your potato mash – There’s a reason why mashed potatoes are the quintessential comfort food; they’re usually made with heaps butter and milk (whole milk as a matter of fact!) While butter and milk give mashed potatoes that yummy, creamy taste, they also contribute the big calorie load. This year, embrace the cauliflower trend and make your potato mash a cauliflower mash. By blending cooked cauliflower with non-fat Greek yogurt, chicken stock, grated Parmesan, garlic, and spices like rosemary and pepper you can whip up a delicious alternative to mashed potatoes that is only 60 calories per cup.
Go topless – No Thanksgiving meal is complete without dessert, and what’s more American than pie? One slice of pecan pie can set you back about 500 calories and 30 grams of sugar, meaning there is over 7 teaspoons of sugar in just one slice! Apple pie can be just as diet-damaging as it’s traditionally made with a top layer of pie crust, and served a la mode. Pie-wise, your best best is pumpkin. Partially because there is no top layer of crust, a slice is more around the 300 calorie mark. Cut calories even further by making a crust-less pumpkin pie. This recipe uses pureed pumpkin, egg whites, almond milk instead of full-fat coconut milk and non-nutritive sweetener instead of sugar. Cinnamon and ground ginger give it that familiar holiday taste, and best of all, it will save you hundreds of calories as this recipe comes in at 30 calories a slice!
Drink smart - Between family and the inevitable heated political conversations, a cocktail (or two!) might be necessary for your Turkey Day gathering. While most holiday cocktails are sugar bombs or filled to the brim with full-fat dairy (a cup of eggnog has 430 calories and 58 grams of sugar!), there are festive drinks that won’t stress your diet as much as your grandparents asking why you’re still single stresses you. This year warm mulled wine may be just what the doctor ordered to take the edge off. To make, just cook dry red wine over low heat with orange and lemon zest along with a mixture of spices like ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, all of which add flavor without calories. Put the spices in an empty tea satchel and let sit in the wine for thirty minutes for the flavors to absorb. Add a non-nutritive sweetener of your choice for additional sweetness and serve warm.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.